The Top 5 Pet-Friendly Airlines for Savvy Pet Owners

The Get Leashed guide to furry friend first-class treatment

By Si Si Penaloza

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Just in time for the fall travel booking season, Get Leashed unleashes our first article in a new Top Dog Airlines series. This is our take on the very top pet-friendly jet carriers, complete with first-hand insights and anecdotes from you, our loyal readers. Take note pet lovers — not all airlines are prepared to give your furry friend the first-class treatment, so go with the best.

1. VIRGIN AMERICA

Virgin America pretty much set the standard in pet-friendly air travel a few years ago with the launch of a new class of service on its domestic flights nationwide: Main Canine Select. The new cabin service (located in the airline’s current First Class cabin – rows 1-2 on most of Virgin America’s Airbus A320-Family fleet) caters specifically to the airline’s four-legged clientele. Virgin America is so far ahead of the game on the pet front. While some in the industry still seem happy to begrudge people with the gall to fly with pets, Virgin America retained an Official Pet Liaison, Boo – “The World’s Cutest Dog”– who helped launch this elevated class of service for dogs. The airline’s creative team developed a custom-designed cabin for travelers’ pets.

The new Main Canine Select service offers furry travelers an interactive light installation that allows pups to chase fully rendered cats, an “open air” lavatory with mood-lit fire hydrants, custom-designed air vents situated at each seat to simulate that head-out-the-window feeling of a car ride and a curated selection of features via the airline’s Red in-flight entertainment platform, such as an endless loop of tennis matches – cheeky! – and an on-demand tapas menu. Virgin America also offers a “Top Dog” status level designed exclusively for the airline’s four-legged frequent flyers that includes a complimentary checked “doggy bag,” Virgin America pet hoodies and curbside hydrants for added convenience.

Dog in travel carrier

2. AMERICAN AIRLINES

Welcome to Cuddle Class! American Airlines just launched preferred seating for your furry friend. Passengers traveling First Class from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York City on the carrier’s fleet of A321T planes can expect their equally-discerning pets to be seated in special compartments adjacent to the owner’s seat. This “pet cabin” is the first-of-its-kind and could be the promise of new horizons for jet-setting pets. Fondly known as “Cuddle Class,” the cabin must be reserved at the time of booking, and documentation from a veterinarian is required. The usual $125 carry-on pet fee is the only cost associated with the space – a great policy considering how steep First Class can run these days. Your pampered pooch may not get to enjoy the canapes, 15.4-inch touchscreen entertainment system or Bose noise-canceling headphones, but at least he isn’t crumpled up like cookie dough under your seat anymore. And no pet snakes on the plane, if you must know.

There are two cabins per plane in first class only, each accommodating one four-legged flyer. Each cabin is large enough to comfortably accommodate a carrier, to a maximum of 19 x 13 x 9 inches if hard-sided, or a little larger if soft-sided. AA’s official page on pet travel has more information regarding restrictions on breeds, weights, and other guidelines. You still have to BYO-Doggie-Xanax, if that’s called for.

“I am most impressed by American Airlines. I’ve never had been hassled by flight attendants, and they generally come over to greet Ruby.”

Jimmy Im, Los Angeles, CA

3. JETBLUE

Big points go to JetBlue; this airline doesn’t just tolerate pets of a certain size, they roll out the perks, making travel a much more enjoyable experience for pet owners. JetBlue has been flying pets since 2000, and they offer a host of travel accessories, services and pet travel guides to assist their travelers. JetBlue flies pets in the cabin but not as cargo, so owners of small dogs and cats are their primary pet customers. The combined weight of the pet and the carrier cannot exceed 20 pounds.

JetBlue updates a blog called BlueTales filled with fun posts and the occasional pet story. And, for True Blue rewards collectors, pet travelers will earn an additional 300 points each time they fly. To make the flying process as smooth as possible, JetBlue offers a free pet travel guide that can be downloaded from their website. Flying is a hassle for some, but for others it’s a regular part of life. Moose, a Maltese Poodle, was recently recognized by JetBlue for flying more than 20 times in the past year.

Dog in airport

4. KLM

KLM treats dogs and cats with the same level of comfort and attention as their passengers. They transport your companions in climate-controlled, pressurised compartments, ensuring the health and well-being of your pet. In transit, cats and dogs are temporarily housed in larger kennels and given food and water. Well-trained staff take care of all the animals, with an emphasis on optimal safety, comfort and hygiene.

“We flew our two dogs via KLM when we repatriated to Canada from Dubai. They were amazing. They even have a dog hotel at Schiphol where they exercise them and check them over before putting them on the next flight. I even called to check on them, and they were happy to take my call. It’s pretty nerve-wracking to fly your dogs such a long way, but they were in excellent hands with KLM.”

Christine McKenna, Toronto

5. CZECH AIRLINES

We’ll admit, this one wasn’t on our radar until we heard from GetLeashed reader and fan, Sara Graham, who is the content curator at FreshPresse.com. Having relocated to two countries in as many years, she has dedicated a chapter to pets in her soon-to-be-published guidebook How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind. Czech Airlines’ pet policy does permit the transport of small dogs and cats in the cabin in compliant carriers. Furthermore, Czech Airlines makes special exceptions for rescue and police dogs on duty, and assistance dogs for passengers who need them. These animals are carried in the cabin preferentially, without a crate, and at no charge.

“This would never happen on Lufthansa or Air Canada (the three flights that got Tigerlily from Canada to the Czech Republic), but Czech Airlines was so great about letting me take this scaredy-cat out of her carrier during the flight to Sweden. I had wanted to fly Scandinavian Airlines/Star Alliance for the points, but discovered that the Czech Airlines had more generous weight and carrier size allowances for in-cabin pets.

Sara Graham, Uppsala, Sweden